The meaning of the manicure has been transformed in the last few years. Until recently, painted nails were a symbol of classic, grown-up elegance. Traditional shades with timeless names – pillarbox red, or ballet-slipper pink – dominated the market. But the boom in nail art and the trend for eyebrow-raising colours – like steel grey, neon tangerine and moss green – have turned the rules upside down. Nails have never been so high profile in fashion and in popular culture and a new generation of young women are using nail polish to express their individuality, their fashion savvy, creativity and even their humour.
Nail art – the painstaking business of painting and gluing designs and tiny jewels onto nails often lengthened with extensions to create a larger canvas – has its roots in small local salons, but has rapidly become big business and a favourite of female celebrities from the worlds of music, sport and fashion. Last year, the American singer Katy Perry attended the MTV awards with a custom-painted manicure in which the names of each single from her most recent album were represented on different nails. Rihanna has been photographed with hundreds of different eye-catching manicures, from Acid House smiley faces to sharpened metallic talons. Fresh from the manicurist, many Instagram their new looks around the world.